The moment a pregnancy is discovered, it changes you. The visions you had of your future self instantly shift to include that child, whether you intend them to or not.
From a young age, we’re taught to dream of and plan for our future selves. What will you be when you grow up? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years? We form a pretty picture of our future from a young age. Although it changes and evolves as we grow up, we still know intimately that ideal future self that we plan on becoming.
When you find out you’re pregnant, your future self changes in a big way. Sure, maybe you had a baby or several in your perfect future plan, but when those two pink lines appear, your vision gets a whole lot more real. It’s here – it’s happening. That future self is a definite thing, defined by this new baby.
When your baby dies, that definite future self you had in your head is suddenly gone, and now, completely unattainable.
Instead of that perfect future with your new baby, there will always be the ghost of the baby you lost, instead. There will always be the broken heart, there will always be grief, and there will always be love. There will NOT be THAT future, with THAT baby, whether you go on to have another or not.
And so, loss parents have to replace their visions of their future selves. Besides the actuality of losing my son, this suddenly unattainable perfect vision of my future self has been the hardest part of loss. If I’m not a mom to a living baby, then what am I? Who am I? Where am I going?
Who is my future self?
The other day, I was out on a brisk walk while listening to one of my favorite podcasts – Invisibilia. When I saw that the title of the next episode up was “Future Self,” I was really looking forward to listening to it. It ended up being a little hard to listen to because of the content (trigger warning: suicide), but it really explored the hard truths about having that perfect vision of your future self in your head, and I ended up inspired.
Here’s a clip from the end of the episode that really hit home for me:
The thing about introducing new concepts to kids, to anyone, even to yourself: It’s noble, but also dangerous work. Eventually, new concepts could expand your horizons; make your life richer and fuller. But one of the things we heard over and over again as we learned about concepts, is that in the short term, it’s stressful, and it can put you at odds with your family, your world, and your old self. So do it carefully, slowly, and with open eyes about how much meticulous work is required. There are no shortcuts; no magic keys that can unlock your amazing new future self. Because maybe there just isn’t one single future self; it’s more like a dance you have to do with lots of future selves, and you can’t hold on to any one too tightly. And you might even consider the idea that you don’t need any future self. That 10 years from now, you could be more or less who you are, just a little older. And that’s fine.
Although I don’t want to be this same self 10 years from now, the bit about having to do a dance with lots of future selves hit me right in the thinker.
I’ve been so caught up in thinking about my future without Jonah and worrying that I’ll never have babies that I’ve lost sight of THIS self. This beautiful, grieving self that misses Jonah so much, but is living and even experiencing joy at times. Yes, my future might hold a baby, but yes, it’s also possible that it won’t.
No, I’m not going to try any less hard at having a baby. I won’t just give up on that future self. But, I can and will obsess about it a little less. I’ll try as hard as I can to grab at that particular self, but I’ll also try to understand that there are many possible future selves.
There’s a me that has a baby, there’s a me that adopts, there’s a me that tries surrogacy, there’s a me that doesn’t have children.
Whichever one of those future selves I end up being, the one thing I CAN control is my outlook. I will make this life into something to be celebrated, no matter which future self I end up with.